A place for the writings and the ideas of the people in and around (and coming to the attention of) the Ridenbaugh Press.

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When Republican Senator Mike Crapo was last up for election, and was overwhelmingly favored for a re-election he easily won in a landslide, he showed a little vulnerability at one point.

That was amidst his debate with Democrat Tom Sullivan, who lobbed one tough debate point after another at Crapo. In Idaho terms it was not out of bounds but was pungent. What went on inside Crapo’s mind only he knows, but he looked to be steaming, furious, and he didn’t come across well. If the race with Sullivan had been close, it might have been seriously up for grabs after that debate.

Crapo’s first Senate debate, in 1998, was a different matter. There, his sparring with Democratic Boise attorney Bill Mauk was no less intense than the 2010 model. But it also was so high-minded, so intelligently geared to ideas and issues that people spoke of it afterwards in terms of being Idaho’s version of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. It may be the best joint debate performance I’ve ever seen in Idaho. One of the things it accomplished was this: Whether you were a Republican or a Democrat, you got your side of the case made solidly by those two candidates.

Today, if you’re an Idaho Republican, you may not feel as if you need your side of the case explained: Unless the state this year takes an abrupt left turn from what it’s done for the last quarter-century, it will vote down the line Republican, mostly if not entirely in landslides. Still, absent some kind of formalized debate – and Idaho’s debate structure is better formalized than some states have – there’s no explanation for it. An unchallenged position can become a mindless one.

But if you’re an Idaho Democrat, when you heard that the state’s three Democratic candidates for Congress – Jerry Sturgill for the Senate and James Piotrowski and Jennifer Martinez for the House – all missed the filing deadline for the debates, you probably were appalled. The phrase “political malpractice” circulated around Democratic circles, and for good reason.

For Democrats, the debates are not only the best place during campaign season they have to make their own case, and the best place to criticize the Republicans, they’re also the one singular spot where they’re on a playing field with Republicans that’s level. Differences in money, in organization, in incumbency, in interest groups – none of it matters.

In a debate, there’s just two candidates saying their piece. It’s the most dramatic point in a campaign: Two antagonists going head to head. The presidential debate on Monday will get a big audience for that reason. The Idaho debates could draw a decent audience too, in Idaho terms. They still have the potential to change a few minds.

How it happened that all three Democratic congressional candidates missed the deadline for filing is unclear. The Idaho Debates organization, which includes people from Idaho Public Television, the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club, for years have been the organizers of the state’s only statewide debate series; the filings they require are intended among other things to show that the candidates involved are running serious campaigns.

The Democratic candidates and the state party were, at this writing, trying to put together another debate series through some other media outlets. Whether they can get the media support and the Republicans to go along is another question.

Incumbents generally would just as soon pass on debates if they can; it’s probably the most stressful single point along the way for a strongly-favored incumbent, as the current Idaho three are.

But they could pick up some points for participating. And it would keep them in practice for when the next closer call comes around. In the larger picture, everyone gets something useful out of campaign debates, even if it’s sometimes just an uncomfortable look in the mirror. Or sometimes, a stretch into stronger thinking and communicating.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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In this time of Trump, let’s review the Redoubt.

Idahoans have had an awareness of this sort-of phenomenon for some time, especially but not exclusively those in the north. It is listed in Wikipedia, where the descriptive article about it begins, “The American Redoubt is a political migration movement first proposed in 2011 by best-selling survivalist novelist and blogger James Wesley Rawles which designates three states in the northwestern United States (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming), and adjoining portions of two other states (eastern Oregon, and eastern Washington) as a safe haven for conservative, libertarian-leaning Christians and Jews.”

It isn’t just a call from a messiah, though. An article about the Redoubt from last May in the Spokane Spokesman-Review was headlined, “Extreme right invites like-minded to region.”

The area overall is said to have attracted thousands of people, though no one knows for sure how many.

No one knows for sure what its political impact may be, either.

It sounds like the kind of movement that might find common cause with the Donald Trump campaign, and maybe many of its people do. That too is hard to know, because so many of them are determinedly off the grid, unallied with large organizations, even those as disorganized as the Trump campaign.

But if so, it does not seem to be taking over. In Idaho, the core of the Redoubt area is in the Panhandle, and in the May primary election Texas Senator Ted Cruz won all of the Panhandle except for Shoshone County(a relatively lightly-populated area); Trump won mainly in the areas that were more remote still, outside the areas usually classed as the Redoubt.

A late August article in the Washington Post on the Redoubt, a well-crafted piece focusing on Idaho, missed most of the recent electoral context, which extended beyond the presidential level.

An opinion piece on the Spokesman-Review web site on September 1 noted, “reasonable Republicans largely prevailed during the Idaho primary in May. Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger easily beat his ‘constitutionalist’ sheriff opponent. Jim Chmelik, one of the region’s leading proponents for public land takeovers, lost his bid for re-election as Idaho County commissioner. Four far-right incumbent legislators in North Idaho were defeated. So, in the short term, it would appear as if the majority of Idahoans haven’t bought into the fear-based agenda of the extreme right. They don’t envision teeming hordes streaming out of the Lilac City.”

I don’t mean here to conflate the Redoubters of today with the Aryan Nations Neo-Nazi gaggle of yesteryear – gone now, happily, for more than a decade – except for this: The actual numerical influence of both probably has been and now is being overstated. Back in the Aryans’ day, some member of that tribe (on one occasion, head honcho Richard Butler himself) would run for a local office, and invariably collect no more than a handful of votes, losing in an overwhelming rout. That part of the Aryan story didn’t often get as much play as their parades or other activities that seemed to puff up their visibility and seeming size and influence.

That could change with the Redoubters. In theory, it could affect this next election. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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When this summer Idaho’s Department of Education brought on board a new legislative liaison, the choice was someone highly unusual: An outsider.

Maybe that has to do with the recent outsider status of the person who did the hiring. But it’s different enough, and the prospects for change in Idaho’s school policies partly as a result, that it shouldn’t pass without notice.

If you hang around the Idaho Statehouse, and nearby buildings, long enough, you find that job titles often change faster than the people do.

If you’re a journalist covering state government, you may wind up in your next career move working, most often as a press spokesman, for one of the people you used to cover. You can find examples in the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, among other places.

And if you’re a legislator or legislative staffer, there’s plenty of precedent for going to work in a lobbying or similar legislative-related role afterward. The list of registered lobbyists includes a lot of people who know the legislature, it’s people and byways, because they’ve worked there in other capacities.

This isn’t especially horrible. It has the advantage of building institutional memory in the larger community around state government. But it does become incestuous. And a very subtle kind of bias starts to develop, involving people who have been on the inside, and those who haven’t, who in turn may find themselves disadvantaged when legislative season comes around.

When Sherri Ybarra, who was elected superintendent of public instruction in 2014, arrived as a surprise winner and definitely a political outsider, she initially made the kind of choice for legislative liaison that many others in a similar position would have made. She appointed Tim Corder, a former state senator, who had lost a recent primary seeking re-election, but had built some good will around the Statehouse during his time there.

Corder stayed only a little more than a year. A bit more established in place by then, Ybarra decided to move in a different direction to replace him.

Early in her term, Ybarra obtained planning help from a national association of her counterparts (the Council of Chief State School Officers), and it sent to Idaho one of its analysts, a former teacher and policy specialist named Duncan Robb. As the Idaho Ed News reported, “something clicked.”

It quoted Robb as saying, “When I would take a visit I’d make jokes and comments about how much I like it here. . . . I think they knew I would be interested, and they let me know when the position was open.”

Robb isn’t steeped in the people and ways of the Idaho Legislature, but he does bring an unusually broad background for working in a state education department. He grew up in California, and earned a master’s in public policy at Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore. He has taught math in big-city schools in Houston and worked with state-level education policy makers around the country.

The sometimes arcane approach to effective lobbying, which the already-insider group brings with it, is one area where he may still have a learning cure. Assuming he masters that, the payoff – in bringing an unusually broad background and expertise to bear on working with the Idaho Legislature – could be large.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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A few years back, when Idaho legislators debated whether to establish a state insurance exchange program under the Affordable Care Act, I criticized most of them for an obsession, not with the health of uninsured Idahoans, but with the perceived evils of the federal government.

Today, the exchange in Idaho is established, popular, heavily used and without doubt saving lives and improving health. Debate has nonetheless continued over what to do about the 78,000 Idahoans who earn too little to qualify for participation in the exchange and get payment help for health care – if at all – through a state and local government catastrophic health program, which pays hospitals for some emergency care no one else will compensate. The answer adopted by 31 states, and proposed by many in Idaho, is to allow expansion of Medicaid to cover the 78,000.

After four years of that debate, some progress: At least now, they’re talking to a significant degree about health care. Progress should be noted where it happens.

But don’t consider the progress, even after four years with a good, working example right in front of them, too spectacular.

The most recent discussion of Medicaid expansion came in an interim legislative committee on August 29. The pro side included savings of many millions of dollars (now paid out in expensive emergency medical care costs) to state and local governments, clear help for the health of many Idahoans and overwhelmingly positive public comments to legislative and others panels over four years. And on the other side?

Senator Steve Thayn said he doubts federal rules on food stamps or Medicaid encourages people to become productive. “If we’re really, truly looking at an Idaho solution, we need to look at what we can do with Idaho money, Idaho rules, and what we can do to change the cost of medical care.”

What is that exactly – we’d all love to know – and if there are such options why has no one found them in the last four years?

Representative Judy Boyle of Midvale: “I think we’ve heard of some other [non-Medicaid] options. … I think we can come up with a really good solution that fits Idaho.”

What sort of options? There’s a non-profit from Seattle that arranges for free care for some low-income people. And a lone (apparently) Idaho Falls physician who takes no insurance payments, just charges very low rates and keeps his overhead down. Interesting instances both, but if you ask why they’re not more widespread – nothing in the Affordable Care Act or other law is stopping them – you’ve halfway answered your question. Or just ask your local hospital or physician why they’re not doing it this way. Their responses would run much longer than this column, but probably point out the many costs, services and risks left addressed by operating essentially as a pure charity.

Limiting costs is a great thing to do, would be smart to bear in mind, and must be part of where health care planning goes in the years to come, but it won’t be easy. Finding ways to do it everywhere in the health care system would be useful work for lawmakers and others for years to come.

In the meantime, 78,000 Idahoans are stuck in a holding pattern of being without health care coverage except the most expensive kind (in crisis condition in hospital emergency rooms) which when paid for at all is paid by local taxpayers or by hospitals who pass on the costs to everyone else. It is a nonsensical system, both in terms of finance and health. The most positive spin for not improving it seems to be that some people insist on finding perfectly satisfying answers, in opposition to merely fostering public health and saving lives.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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“We narrowly lost that race but our message of empowerment, advancement and citizen-led state control over federal dependency resonated loudly. I’m pleased to communicate that I will be continuing that mission as a candidate for governor in 2018.”

The speaker was former state Senator Russ Fulcher, a Meridian Republican who ran in the Republican primary for governor in 2014 – losing to incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter – announcing last week, in mid-2016, about his upcoming return to the governor’s race in 2018.

The news came on a slickly-produced 1:44 video that almost could have doubled as a campaign ad except that this was just the announcement of a forthcoming campaign.

There really is no break in this anymore, is there?

That’s not meant as a slap at Fulcher. As you’ll probably recall, he’s the second major candidate for governor in 2018, the first being Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, an Otter appointee who has been widely considered the governor-in-waiting for about seven years now. Because much of the support base for Fulcher overlaps with that of Representative Raul Labrador, who has also often been mentioned as a 2018 gubernatorial prospect, this may be an indicator Labrador won’t be running for that office. At least, in 2018.

It also sets up a near rerun of the contest from 2014, when Fulcher’s run against Otter was prompted in large part because of Otter’s support for the state health insurance exchange. Fulcher’s 2014 web site said, “Federal policies in the areas of healthcare, education, and the environment are stripping freedoms from Idahoans and placing them in the hands of government bureaucrats. This became glaringly evident in 2013, when the Idaho Legislature, led by Governor Butch Otter, voluntarily embraced Obamacare, thereby placing Idaho as a partner of the federal government in implementing a healthcare law that Idahoans do not want and cannot afford.”

If Otter won’t be on the ballot, Little, who has been as loyal a lieutenant as a governor could ask for, will be a good stand in.

But some other things have changed and will change between 2014 and 2018. Here are a couple.

The so-controversial health insurance marketplace is part of the health and financial environment now, and about 100,000 Idahoans receive health insurance coverage in whole or part because of it. Campaigning against federal intrusion is never a loser in Idaho, but campaigning to kick 100,000 people off health insurance almost surely would be. The subjects and approach of a Fulcher campaign would almost have to change somewhat from 2014, or face a revolt. Or a loss to Little.

The other change is harder to estimate: It has to do with the effect of Donald Trump on politics going forward from 2016. Otter has joined Trump’s campaign as an honorary chair, but most other major Republican leaders in the state have kept a lower profile. How will Trump and his advocates be viewed a year, or two years, from now? In some parts of the state – substantial parts of southern Idaho, to start with – Trump is not very popular at all, and a touchy subject for many Republicans to address.

But the future of the Republican Party will be very much up for grabs after this year’s campaign is over, and that contest will be active in Idaho as it will be elsewhere. Where will Little and Fulcher come down on it?

The campaign is beginning, even now.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The Idaho state Republicans have opened several local field offices, evidently for the duration of the campaign season, in Lewiston, Moscow and Hailey, and according to reports, another is planned in west Boise.

The latter is only a few miles away from state party headquarters in downtown Boise. These new offices do have something in common: They are located in most of those few places in Idaho where competitive legislative races are underway. (The Democrats may be setting up shop a little more informally.)

Not much of Idaho is really up for grabs in this year’s election, partly because most districts in Idaho are too partisan-lopsided to allow for close races; but there are a few. It’s also possible some other races could start to spark. Only about 80 days are left, but even in Idaho the unpredictable can happen.

Closest thing to ground zero for serious competition right now, again in this cycle as before, is district 15, where the two House Republican incumbents, Lynn Luker and Patrick McDonald, are being challenged heavily by Democrats Steve Berch – his third hard-charging run in this district – and Jake Ellis, both raising and spending money comparable to the incumbents. Up to now, Republicans have won every time out in this west Boise district, but the margins have shrunk, and the outcome of these races is hard to predict.

The districts based around Moscow and Lewiston have been among the most competitive in recent years, and two years ago the House Democratic leader, John Rusche, won re-election at Lewiston by 50 votes. No one is taking any votes for granted in these places – Districts 5 and 6. While the Senate seats here do look set for incumbent re-elections, the four House races all show signs of being competitive.

The unusual spot for a Republican local office is Hailey, the Blaine County seat which is almost as solidly Democratic as any community in Idaho – and taken together with Ketchum, maybe more than any. The legislative delegation from this area has been mostly Democratic for a generation.

But while the district includes the Democratic Wood River Valley it also includes more Republican territory reaching out to Shoshone, Fairfield, Gooding and Wendell, and the Democratic advantage is not enormous. One of the House seats is now occupied by Republican Steve Miller, and the other, held for a dozen years by Democrat Donna Pence, is now (with her retirement) open. Democrat Sally Toone of Gooding seems reasonably well positioned to keep the seat blue (Pence is her campaign manager), but Republicans seem to be taking seriously the opportunity an open seat is giving them, and Alex Sutter, a businessman at Richfield, may be a strong prospect.

These are not the only significant legislative races in Idaho this year, of course. Sometimes political explosions come out of nowhere, as in last week’s instance of state Senator Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, and Representative Christy Perry, R-Nampa, after news media reports that the two married legislators had an affair. Both are on the ballot in November and, partly because both live in solidly Republican districts, seemed to be headed toward re-election. Now their races have become harder to measure.

This doesn’t look like an especially competitive year, and the roster of Idaho legislative candidates hasn’t produced a large list of fascinating candidates. But sometimes races take on interest when something new happens, and candidates look more interesting in hindsight, when you see what they’ve accomplished.

We’re heading into the home stretch.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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One of the online places political junkies get their fix – it’s really hard to stay away for long – is the fivethirtyeight.com web site and especially its election forecast section.

There are other polling analysis sites around the web, but 538, led by the remarkable statistician Nate Silver, is the most sophisticated. Most prominently it has a section showing, based on current information, how the candidates for president are doing. It updates the information whenever a new data point becomes available, which may be several times in a day, or even several times in an hour. Every time I check back in, it seems to have changed. And there’s more: The site offers three rounds of current estimates, the “now cast,” which estimates who probably would win and by how much if the election were held now; the “poll only,” which analyzes polls and nothing else; and the “polls-plus,” which adds in economic, historic and other factors.

As I write this, 538 estimates Democrat Hillary Clinton has an 86.3% chance of beating Republican Donald Trump, according to “polls only.” The number will change, up or down, by the time you read this.

538 also breaks down the probability estimates by state. As I write this, the odds Trump will win Idaho have been calculated – polls-only – at 96.3%. It is the third highest probability of a Trump win in the country, behind only West Virginia and (in first place) Oklahoma (at 98.7%). The polls-plus probability of a Trump win in in Idaho in November hit 99.1%, which is almost as close to a certainty as 538 gets, while the now-cast (if the election were held today) is at 98.2%. The now-cast estimates that in Idaho, Trump would get 54.6% of the vote, Clinton 35.7% and Libertarian Gary Johnson 7.8%.

You can see a consistent pattern here.

Some states, especially many of the battlegrounds, are polled frequently, but Idaho isn’t, which creates an obstacle for analysts like 538. They’re relying in large part on three polls from Dan Jones & Associates.

Polling analysts put a lot of attention into not so much the snapshots that individual polls can generate, but the trend lines – are numbers rising or falling over time – and comparisons between pollsters, when those are available. In Idaho, those numbers have been mostly stable all year.

Idaho’s neighboring states have been a little more variable, swinging around significantly during July (the month of conventions) in blue Washington and Oregon, red Utah and Montana (though not red Wyoming, which stayed stable) and purple Nevada. In the first couple of weeks of August, however, all have begun to settle into familiar patterns.

The most interesting of the neighbors – in the possibility it might break from familiar patterns – is Utah. Utah actually has been polled with some regularity this year, and by several pollsters. Trump is given an 80% probability (polls only) of winning it, but that’s far less than Idaho or Wyoming. At 80% probability, you have an operating assumption that Trump will take the state, but the chance of an upset is not completely off the charts. Put another way, the chance Trump may lose Utah is greater than the chance that he wins the November election. If he did lose Utah, might that affect the Idaho percentages in reflection of how the large LDS vote might turn?

Utah is one of several western states of interest, in having polling numbers that force both parties to keep a wary eye on them. Nevada and Arizona are near-battlegrounds, Colorado is in the gray area for battleground status, and party activists might be wise to keep an eye on Montana, where Trump has a probability of winning now sitting at 76%, which is less than secure.

For the time being, though, after all the post-convention talk about changes in the races, Idaho still looks pretty well locked down.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The state Department of Labor last week released a statistic that policy makers might want to wrap their minds around, as a significant broad-brush indicator about Idaho and a question to ponder as they consider what sort of state Idaho should be.

Consider the people who graduate from Idaho colleges and universities, one year after graduation. (The study was conducted of graduates from 2010 to 2014.)

Of those former students who were in-state residents, about 77 percent stayed in the state, “working in Idaho jobs.” The report said “The other 23 percent of in-state graduates either left to work in another state, took a federal government job, joined the military or worked in some other kind of self-employment category. In some cases, they may still be looking for work in their field, continuing on to graduate school or to another educational program.”

Five years later, about 67 percent still were in the state.

Of those who were out of state students, just 39 percent stayed in the state after one year, and just 28 percent five years later. (“Out of state” students were those considered non-residents at the time they entered the college of university, whether or not they became Idaho residents during the time of their studies.)

That’s a big gap, about two to one. What would account for it?

As an out of stater when I first came to the University of Idaho, but who stayed in Idaho long afterward, the question and the results hit home.

The department speculated that family or other ties may be part of what keeps many of those in-state students in place. That may be about right. The study added, “Other factors include types of degrees and programs offered. Some degrees and programs are highly marketable all over the country and the world, making those students more mobile and attractive to employers outside Idaho. Geographic location of the institution is another factor. Some colleges and universities are located in college towns, closer to bordering states where students are more likely to take their degrees to other more economically viable cities outside of the state. And, some postsecondary institutions are already located in thriving and growing economic urban hubs, creating local and immediate job opportunities for graduates eager to enter the workforce.”

The fact that Eastern Idaho Technical College and the College of Southern Idaho, both located in areas relatively far from metro areas and where the student population may be especially based from the local area, tends to back up that idea.

What the institutions aren’t doing as much, which probably is happening in other places and might be useful in Idaho, is not only drawing in but retaining talented students from other states. The students are coming – lower costs at the Idaho institutions may be one reason – but they’re not staying.

Why isn’t Idaho keeping those students? Is it a lack of jobs, or is there some other major consideration?

That might usefully be the subject of a future DOL report: For that large majority of students who come but don’t stay in Idaho, why aren’t they sticking around?

Idaho might benefit from the answer to that question.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Six months ago, and six months from now, the Idaho Legislature was and will be getting into gear, reviewing budgets and rule and bill proposals.

And while that will look like the busy season, a lot of what they do actually has its origins in work being done now, in the quiet time, in the middle of summer. When our political attention is drawn mostly to the national party conventions. When it would seem, to judge from most headlines, that little governmental action is really ongoing.

In fact, a stroll around the Capitol Mall about now probably would give you the impression that the times in state government are fairly sleepy.

But not really. A good deal of legislative prep work is underway, for example, in legislative interim committees. The Public School Funding Committee (discussing one of the biggest topics in almost any legislative session) met on July 12, the committee on health care alternatives (as hot a topic as any) met July 21, the panel on state employee benefits will meet August 3 and the children at risk committee meets August 4.

These committees and a bunch of others will shape some of the key legislation in the 2017 session. A lot of interim legislative activities are held in the summer (they’re being set up in the spring, and fall meeting dates are often a problem in campaign season).

July 1 is an important state government date. It is the default date for new laws to take effect, which means switching over and evaluation in a number of areas. It also is the dividing line between fiscal years, the point when the books are closed on the old year, and revenue analysis has to begin for the new one.

Partly for that same reason, budget work starts to get underway in midsummer. State agencies are supposed to receive a budget manual in July, and submit their requests either this month or in August. You won’t see the results, not publicly, until after the new year, but the groundwork is beginning to be laid even now.

You’ll hear more about state administrative rules when the legislature reviews them in January, but a lot of the crunch work is underway now – in the period well after the legislature adjourns, but well before (allowing for publication and other schedules) the legislature returns. Because of the legislature’s intensive review of the rules, the window for actually developing and reviewing them is relatively short, at the other end of the year.

And many state boards and commissions hold summer meetings, which in some cases are among the most critical meetings of the annual cycles; partly because of those budget and rulemaking considerations. The Fish & Game Commission met July 6, the Idaho Workforce Development Council on July 14, the state Land Board and Board of Corrections on July 19, and the Water Resource Board and Oil and Gas Commission on July 21 – just to cite a few examples from so far this month.

Of course, regional and local governments continue on through the year as well, and they too have budgeting and other considerations that keep them busy over the summer.

It may be vacation season for many people, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Quite the contrary.

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Did it come as something of a shock to the executives at Micron Technology when one of the leading research universities in the world, Harvard, decided to file suit against it?

The question is a little generic, since the suit filed on June 24 apparently came after Harvard had sent letters and other communications. But the more non-specific answer – which Micron hasn’t given; it has not said much about the case – may tell something about the larger issue of patents and their sometimes sweeping impact.

The case arose after Micron and another company, GlobalFoundries (which also is in Harvard’s legal sights) began using a new technology which allows for placing extremely thin metal films on other substances, which can expand the reach of computing possibilities. We don’t yet know whether Micron or GF would argue they independently came up with the process, or whether they would contend it is different from others. But Harvard said that it is the same as one developed by a team led by one of its professors, Roy G. Gordon, in the late 1990s and early in the next decade.

On becoming aware Micron was using what it thought was the same approach, Harvard said it “reached out to each of the companies outside of the context of litigation and invited them to engage in good faith licensing discussions. The companies have refused to engage and have, so far, continued their infringement without licensing rights to use the patented technology.”

Patent law, or the use of it, has been changing in the last few decades, and concerns about it have been growing as well. The popular conception of patents probably relates to the classic entrepreneurial inventor in the home basement who’s come up with a brilliant new mousetrap, and wants to make sure someone else doesn’t steal his great idea. Or, at least, that he can benefit from it. The idea is to encourage invention, and also to encourage the use of the invention to benefit society. Many patents are now held by large organizations, developed by people who work for them.

Harvard’s statement on the new lawsuit said it “recognizes that the public’s interest may be best served in some circumstances by the application of legal protection to the innovations of Harvard inventors so that these technologies may be developed into useful products.” If reading that makes you feel like you’ve looped around the curves of a pretzel, you may not be alone.

Also this: “The Gordon laboratory’s research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, a federal law, enables universities to hold patents on federally funded research and to participate in technology transfer activities that help ensure inventions become useful products that benefit society. Harvard invests significant resources into research infrastructure and activities, technology development, and the cost of filing and maintaining patents.”

A question may be coming to mind, which Harvard also usefully posed in its statement: “If Harvard intends groundbreaking technologies to make an impact in the world, why file suit against companies that are making use of the technology?” The answer was that unlicensed use of the technology “can devalue the contributions and efforts of researchers who have often devoted their careers to solving important technological challenges.”

In a purely financial way, maybe. But that seems to be the limits of what much of patent law is about these days. The forthcoming legal replies from Micron will be worth watching.

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Take none of what follows as a prediction, but I will say this: The Northwest is home to the single most logical vice presidential pick in the country, in either party.

I eliminate the Donald Trump-Republican side here, because I have no idea who the most logical vice presidential nominee there might be. (For a host of reasons, not Senator Mike Crapo, who made a list of prospects by columnist Ann Coulter.)

On the Hillary Clinton-Democratic side, the calculus is easier, and by combining assets and liabilities Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley rises toward the top. He is not among the most-mentioned names, but all of those better-knowns come with problems attached. The choice of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would thrill some people but would stir new controversy (the two-woman ticket) while putting her Senate seat at partisan risk at a time when Democrats have hopes of retaking the Senate. That same Senate problem applies to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who’s close to the Clintons, has financial and other issues and would aggravate the Bernie Sanders contingent. Sanders himself is a non-starter, as Clinton has made clear, not least because he has not worked in the party vineyards. Other prospects have little or no serious experience as a candidate for high office.

Merkley was the only senator to endorse Sanders, which made him beloved within that contingent, but he did that without trashing Clinton, who he has since endorsed. Picking Merkley would be a signal from Clinton that she can overcome her issues of insularity, and expand her enthusiasm quotient on the left. (Of coursse, if she’s as insular as reputed, Merkley’s Sanders link would be a disqualifer.) The risks would be small. Merkley is a loyal Democrat, has run as such since his first election to the Oregon House in 1998, and has helped other Democratic campaigns.

In demeanor, he has a low-key, “aw-shucks” manner (in person he comes across more like Crapo than an of the others in the Idaho delegation) which would neatly balance Clinton’s presentation, but he’s also a skilled speaker and debater. He rose quickly into Oregon House of Representatives leadership, and showed political chops by leading the campaign effort that switched control of the chamber from Republican to Democratic ad made him speaker. Like Oregon’s other senator, Ron Wyden, he’s held town halls in every county in the state each year he’s been in the Senate (he’s now in his second term). His background, as he routinely reminds Oregonians, is as the son of a Myrtle Creek mill worker, and his interest in practical economics grows out of that.

If elected as vice president, Oregonians would choose his replacement in a special election. Given Oregon’s politics, Democrats probably would not have to worry about losing the seat.

His easy manner led many Oregon Democrats to figure him for an unambitious centrist, and he has cooperated with a variety on other senators on sundry issues, including Idaho’s Republicans on regional topics like wildfire prevention. He also, however, has been a liberal activist on economic and other issues (his highest national profile probably has been on the subject of filibuster reform) which is why the Sanders backers would approve of him.

What few Oregonians probably know, and Merkley seldom mentions, is that he has a strong foreign relations and defense background as well. After a stretch in the office of (Republican) Senator Mark Hatfield, Merkley worked for a variety of international non-profit and other organizations around the world, spending time in Ghana, Mexico, Italy, India and elsewhere. After that he became a presidential management fellow at the Department of Defense, working in Caspar Weinberger’s administrative offices on defense process and strategy. And after that, at the Congressional Budget Office as a nuclear arms analyst. He discusses defense and foreign relations policy with ease.

Merkley’s name, as a veep prospect, has come up so far only on the periphery, and to reiterate, I make no predictions here. But the case for hism is strong enough that you shouldn’t be shocked if you hear it again.

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Idaho Idaho column Oregon Stapilus

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Brad Little, Idaho’s lieutenant governor since January 2009, has filed paperwork toward a run for governor in 2018. In doing that, he has finally done what some observers expected he would in 2014 or even as far back as 2010.

No need now, he was quoted in one news report, to be coy about it any more, which makes definitive that the incumbent governor who appointed him, C.L. “Butch” Otter, will not try for a fourth term. Running for governor, or one of the top offices, has been more or less eventually expected of Little for many years. Even when he was in the state Senate, and before that when he rebuffed suggestions he run for this or that, there was the sense that he would one day be a contender for top-rank office in the state.

Brad Little comes from one of the major Idaho pioneer families, for three decades running his family’s large ranching operations based at Emmett. He has been an actual cowboy – the real thing, not a rodeo enthusiast but a working cattleman. Years ago during a backcountry drive I paused for refreshment at one of the bars at Yellow Pine, and watched as a gaggle of dirty, tired, ragged cattle hands burst in through the door – Brad Little in the middle of them, one of the gang. You’d not easily have picked him out as the corporate and political figure in Boise he also was even then. Or guessed at the scope of self-education and contacts he’s developed, the variety of perspectives he’s absorbed.

He is a more complex figure than most Idahoans probably realize. His profile as lieutenant governor for the last six-plus years has been defined as a rigorous Otter loyalist. He will no doubt have Otter’s support in the coming campaign, and – as the campaign treasurer appointment of Vicki Risch, wife of Senator Jim Risch, should make clear – that of most of the Republican establishment as well. To tag Little as simply providing another term of Otter would be wrong and unfair given his own capabilities, though that is likely how his opposition will describe him.

And there will be opposition. Two names at least have been circulating for quite a while: Representative Raul Labrador and former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost the Republican primary – after a hot and spirited contest – to Otter in 2014. Labrador has been mentioned as a prospect almost as long as he’s been in the House, though he may be more likely to continue settling in there than to uproot for the statehouse. Fulcher appears to have kept in touch with his support base, and could be well positioned to renew his campaign if he decides to give it another go.

The governor’s office doesn’t come open all that often, and it almost certainly will be contested.

For the moment, however, Little has good positioning for it, for at least two reasons.

One, taking a tip from Otter’s campaign approach, he effectively announced early. Otter did that in his first run for governor and hoovered up most of the money and support available. Jim Risch, who was seriously considering a run for the job too, finally backed off. Little may be a formidable contender before 2018 even arrives.

Second, if he has to fill in the political role Otter has played, that may not be a liability. Otter, after all, decisively won in 2014 in the face of serious opposition. Little might well be able to appeal to many of those elements that gave Otter his third term.

In 2014, Little was challenged in the Republican primary directly from the Fulcher wing of the party, and defeated Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik with just over two-thirds of the vote. He will not be easy to defeat.

But challenged he almost surely will be, and now the campaign is on.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus